Saturday, August 25, 2012

Is the arena "a month ahead of schedule"? Times stenography takes Ratner at face value

See link to other examples.

Would Barclays Center construction really be completed a month ahead of schedule? No, but that's what the New York Times clip file reads. (Yes, this is part of the Culture of Cheating.)

On April 11, I sent a correction request regarding a New York Times Sports section article that day headlined Owner Says the Nets and New Arena Remain Hard-Hat Zones:
But Bruce C. Ratner, the developer who sold [Mikhail] Prokhorov 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the arena, said that construction should be completed a month ahead of schedule, leading to a Sept. 28 opening with a Jay-Z concert.
I pointed out that, according to the transcript published by the Post, Ratner said that the construction should be completed a month before opening, not a month ahead of schedule:
"We’re opening on September 28, that’s the magic date. We’re going to open, as you all know, with a Jay-Z concert. We’ll probably be pretty substantially completed about a month earlier, and work out bugs for about a month. We’re on time and on schedule, and it should be done with no problem."
In other words, the arena is scheduled to be completed a month before it opens, giving it time to "work out bugs." Thus Ratner's statement to the Times thus sounded like posturing--or just colloquial shorthand, if he meant "a month before opening."

No one schedules an arena--a large, complex building with many systems--to be completed just before it opens. Ratner's own lieutenant, MaryAnne Gilmartin, said in affidavit that they needed three or four months to work out systems--a cushion that's unavailable.

Following up

After sending a reminder on April 20, I got a response from Times Senior Editor Greg Brock:
We did not write our article based on the transcript that The Post published. The sentence in our article was from a one-on-one interview our reporter had with Mr Ratner. And what we wrote accurately reflects what he told us. We are checking to see if he misspoke in our interview and wants to clarify or retract his statement. If he does, we will clarify that. But the statement in our article accurately reflects what he told us in our own interview. So at the moment there is nothing in our article to correct.
I responded by pointing to the work of construction consultant Merritt & Harris, which reports to Forest City Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation, and the bank that's a trustee for the arena bondholders. The consultant said earlier in April that the arena is supposed to be substantially completed on September 5, so a month ahead of schedule would be August 5.

Brock responded:
Well we didn't interview the construction consultant. We interviewed Mr. Ratner. And we correctly reported what he told us. If we determine that the information he gave us needs correcting, we will do so. You can find it on A2, as always.
My response, and the reasons for skepticism

I responded by encouraging Brock to keep in mind that  Ratner in 2008 said he anticipated finishing Atlantic Yards in 10 years, but in 2010 said that the ten-year timeline was "never supposed to be the time" in which the project would be built.

In other words, just because Ratner says something, precise stenography is only the starting point.

But Brock, in the manner of a lawyer for a New York state agency concerned less about the truth than surviving a legal challenge, just wants to establish a "rational basis" for the Times's report. And that "rational basis" is the quote from Ratner's own mouth.

But when Ratner contradicts himself the same day, when documentation contradicts him, and when he has a pattern of unreliability, "correctly reporting what he told us" is insufficient.

More reasons for skepticism

I could have offered another example: Ratner's claim that 2000 people would get work at the arena, even though the actual full-time equivalent is 1,240 jobs.

Or Ratner's admission in 2010 that the timetable for Atlantic Yards was market-dependent, though two years earlier he'd predicted a ten-year buildout.

Or Ratner's astonishing statement to the Wall Street Journal last November that "existing incentives" don't work for high-rise, union-built affordable housing.

Truth vigilantes?

Should reporters be more like stenographers or "truth vigilantes"?

After all, as Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane wrote 4/22/12, in another context (about coverage of President Obama):
Richard Stevenson, the political editor overseeing campaign coverage... added, “We remind ourselves every day of the need to provide readers — voters — with as much news, information and context as possible about the candidates, their records, their characters, their positions and the influences on them, including their campaign donors.”
If context is important, that means they wouldn't simply trust a self-serving quote, would they?

10 comments:

  1. I'm confused. So your saying that what Ratner says is false?

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  2. What I'm saying is that Ratner says "We’re on time and on schedule."

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  3. The arena would have been "a month ahead of schedule" if it had been substantially completed August 5.

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    1. But its not... which we already know since its like 3 weeks past that mark.

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    2. Yes. Just re-read what I wrote a bit more carefully.

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    3. What I'm getting is that the Times was quoting Ratner and was using what he was saying even though he was wrong. Correct?

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  4. He was wrong, or misleading, or just speaking carelessly. My point is that simply quoting people precisely--Ratner, political candidates, etc.--when what they say is factually inaccurate is a disservice to readers.

    This mistake is hardly the biggest problem with Atlantic Yards. But other journalists and researchers use the NY Times as a reference, so errors tend to creep into other reports.

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    Replies
    1. Ah, but why write about this now when this happened in April?

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    2. Um, I can publish things when I get to them. In case, there was a trigger:
      http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2012/08/new-york-times-public-editor-says.html

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